I a go to Great Bear: The French Connection

Sunset Snowshoe

On Family day weekend, 2013, myself and a surly bunch of fellow backcountry recreationists spent a cold, somewhat windy night atop a mountain we had no intentions to be anywhere near.

This somewhat serendipitous weekend occurred thanks in large part to my French friend, Mr. Adrien T. (drumroll please)

What follows will be less an account of the events from that weekend and more the experiences I had and have gladly had in Adrien’s company.

Mountains have the capacity to make people a little crazy in my opinion. If you’ve got even a slightly obsessive or addictive personality then you are going to find a way to feed it in the Mountains. You have the peakbaggers who just have to “collect ‘em all”, the adrenaline junkies, the First Ascentists, those who count every foot of elevation they’ve ever climbed, those who constantly need to push their physical and mental limits (I’d count myself among these) and then you have your Completists, to name a few.

I’d define Adrien as a bit of a Completist. He sees beauty in order, organization and structure. How this translates to the Mountains is lists. Lists of peaks, lakes, trails, routes. There is a cornucopia of guidebooks out there on most subjects mountain related. Some use them as a reference, while others see them as a challenge. The challenge to visit all of the respective locales in these books and tick them all off.

He’s certainly not alone. I’ve met many people who do this. When I have informed fellow hikers on the trails that I am using a certain book as a reference I’ve been oft posed the question: “how many have you done?”. I have no clue, but I do see the appeal of keeping track, if only to see how I have personally been progressing in my ability and experience.

Adrien is working on a few lists at the moment and most trips that he plans tend to be chosen in such a way as to tick off at least one of the places they reference. Which is why it came as some surprise last weekend when he made us aware of a trip he wanted to do that wasn’t in any guidebook that I know of. He wanted to visit a peak accessed from the Coquihalla Hwy named Mount Henning.

Adrien organizes like a mutha hubba, I mean he usually has it dialed in up to 11 when it comes to working out distances, weather, gear lists… etc. So when he said he wanted to do a few mellow peaks to do some testing of his new AT Ski setup I agreed.

Saturday morning arrived, and in my typically Irish fashion, I was running late. A few delays compounded and myself and Spring pulled up in front of Adrien’s place 30 minutes behind schedule. We jumped into Adriens shiny new vehicle and picked up the 4th member of our group, Dean, aka, “The Pinoy Sensation” .

We drove for 30 minutes or more and picked up our 5th member, Ben. Or Banjo as he insists we call him due to his obsessive love of Bluegrass Music (I might have that wrong). At this point it turned out Dean had forgotten the skins for his skis. We had no choice, we had to drive back and pick them up. Hey, we were already close to an hour behind schedule at this point, what’s another hour. “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men”.

Long story short we arrived at the Britton Creek Rest Stop. As we got nearer the Trailhead we heard the disconcerting hum of a veritable myriad of Snowmobiles ahead of us. We pulled into a paid parking lot and a rather gruff looking dude said “I wouldn’t ski or snowshoe here, there’ll be loads of snowmobiles on that road and they won’t be going slow either as they won’t be expecting skiers, I’d recommend going someplace else”. We could see the parking area was chock full of trucks with snowmobiles being or already unloaded. More trucks were pulling in behind us.

Adrien pulled the car forward and we talked about it. None of us were enthusiastic about sharing the trail with the deafening din and noxious smell of snowmobiles for the weekend. What could we do? Adrien turned to us and said: “It’s ok guys, I’ve got a Plan B, July Mountain, from 103 Hikes”

I looked at Spring, then turned to Ben with a wry smile and whispered: “Oh no! It’s the Adrien Bait-and-Switch!”

Rewind to Canada Day weekend 2011. I didn’t really know Adrien all that well back then but he invited me to join him and his friends on a trip into the Tantalus Range. We’d chopper in and bag some of the amazing peaks around Lake Lovely Water over the long weekend. Anyone who knows me knows that all they have to say is “Tanta…” and I’ll say “I’m in”. I was super stoked. The morning arrived but the cloud ceiling was low and the Heli Pilot didn’t want to fly. The trip got cancelled and that’s when I got the call from Adrien: “It’s ok guys, I’ve got a Plan B, meet me at the Tim Hortons in Hope outside of Manning Park”.

We met up and found out the Plan, it was to car camp in Manning Park and do Lightning Lakes and Three Brothers Mountain from the guidebook “103 Hikes in SW BC”. As we walked along the banks of the lightning lakes trail I wondered to myself “Why would this be the Plan B to the Tantalus Range?”.

Lightning Lakes

Months later, Adrien suggested camping on the summit of a peak that I can’t remember now, and right at the last minute the plan got axed for some reason, that’s when I heard it again: “It’s ok guys, I’ve got a Plan B, we’ll camp at the end of The Skagit River Trail from 103 Hikes”. As I trudged along the Skagit River Trail (30km’s return), which starts from a road and ends at another road, which we camped on, I, again, scratched my head and wondered why this would be the Plan B to camping on the summit of a Mountain?

Skagit River Trail

That’s when it hit me. Adrien wants to complete 103 Hikes and I said, only half jokingly, that since most of them are not exciting hikes that nobody in our group is usually going to agree to do one of them willingly. So Adrien bait’s us with some amazing trip and when it falls apart a 103 Hikes trip is picked as the Plan B. As we’ll all have no other plans made and it will already be too late we’ll usually just agree.

I started a joke that Adrien should write his own guidebook: “Adriens bait and switches: A Guide to completing 103 Hikes” which would detail excellent bait hikes in the vicinity of 103 Hikes to get your friends to their Trailheads before you do the switch.

Fast forward back to February, 2013. As we left the sledders behind and headed out onto the road again, with the promise from Adrien that July Mountain would be a worthy alternative, myself and the others were dubious. I’m sure it is a fine hike, and my mocking of 103 Hikes is mostly jest, but still, we were really behind schedule at this point and needed a quick known hike as an alternative that would be short and wouldn’t have us pitching our tents somewhere in the dark.

Myself, Spring and Ben had been to Iago before, which was only a few minutes drive away, so it was settled. We’d do Iago and possibly bag Great Bear next to it also if we felt inclined.

We geared up quickly once parked and headed out.

Something that never wears thin is Adrien’s trailside banter. He always has something to talk about. Only problem is he moves so fast that most of the time you aren’t within earshot to make out the words.

On this trip we discussed topics like the porno names for the show “Game of Thrones”, some notable mentions would be “Game of Throbs” or “Game of Bones”. We concluded that the porno version would be shot exactly the same, only the violence would be cut out.

We also noted the fact that Adrien, as much as he tries to be an Ultralight Backpacking aficionado, can’t shake his French roots which force him to bring fresh bread, blocks of cheese, a punnet of cherry tomatoes and a dozen muffins with him on overnight hikes.

Another conversation started innocuously enough with Adrien eating some boiled eggs as a snack. It’s amazing what you can turn into a conversation sometimes. We talked about how yellow the yoke of a perfectly boiled egg should be. Dean said he usually had them grey which received skewed looks. I asked if anyone had had Soft-boiled eggs and soldiers growing up. I felt the need to explain as most looked confused.

In Ireland, the Irish throw worries about salmonella to the wind and most kids grow up on soft-boiled eggs with a runny yolk which you dip strips of buttered toast called “soldiers” into to eat. Adrien said they did the same in France, but the toast wasn’t called “Soldiers” it was called “Mouillettes”. We asked for a translation, which we seen him searching for and he said “It means something like the wetness”.

It was so odd to us that strips of toast might be referred to as the wetness in France that it lingered. Periodically, throughout the day, when describing something, we’d throw in the word “wetness” as an adjective. If it could mean strips of toast it could mean anything. Like “Dean, that shrunken wool toque you’re wearing is the wetness”

Milky Way over the Coq

Anyway, we reached the summit, shared plenty of laughs that brought us to tears that were soon frozen on our cheeks in the winter chill and enjoyed the spectacular cosmic vista above us. The clouds rolled in the valleys below and the weekend couldn’t have turned out more perfect.

The next day we summited Great Bear and headed back to our respective abodes with fresh memories not only of new summits reached but of stories shared and heard between friends, and with the prospect, always with the prospect, of needing to do it all again as soon as we possibly could.

Author: Leigh McClurg

I grew up in County Dublin, Ireland and moved to British Columbia, Canada with my wife in 2010. I fell in love with being in the Backcountry and Mountains that are all around me here and try to spend all of my free time exploring those wild places. My main goals are to chase happiness, see as much of this planet and its cultures as possible and grow every day through knowledge and experiences.

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  1. Awesome trip report! I loved every sentence, your a great writer!

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